Bid to oust Yeltsin fails on all counts

Margin on 5 allegations wider than anticipated on 3rd day of hearings

`Reason has prevailed'

Russian leader's escape is viewed as result of lower house's confusion

May 16, 1999|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- After a year of parliamentary roaring, efforts to impeach President Boris N. Yeltsin ended with a whimper yesterday. All five charges against the president were defeated, and by unexpected margins.

On the third day of hearings, the Communist-inspired accusations ranging from genocide to destruction of the Soviet Union gradually lost their potency. Instead, several politicians turned the debate into an indictment of all Russian leaders and a melancholy reverie on the sins of their forebears.

"The first of the key lessons of today is that the chief executive of the state can be put on trial," said Oleg Morozov, a Yeltsin opponent and Communist ally. "Our leaders in the past have sunk into historical limbo in different ways. Sometimes they were shot without trial or investigation. But today we speak with the president in the language of democracy."

That language was unambiguous. Each charge required 300 votes from the 450-member state Duma, the lower house of parliament, for passage. Only 348 deputies picked up ballots. And the charge considered most likely to pass -- illegally starting a war in Chechnya -- received only 283 votes.

The other charges lost by larger margins. The accusation that Yeltsin destroyed the Soviet Union got 239 votes; that he illegally turned the army on a previous parliament in October 1993, 263 votes; that he destroyed the armed forces, 241 votes; and that he caused genocide by impoverishing the Russian people, 238 votes.

The battle was never about presidential performance. It was about power. Yeltsin apparently won this round more because of the Duma's weakness and deep ideological differences than because of his strength.

This point was emphasized yesterday morning when Yeltsin, who has been ill more often than not the past year, went to the hospital for what was described as a routine checkup. In the afternoon, he left for a country residence without making any public comment on the impeachment proceedings.

Crisis unresolved

If the Duma deputies were rejoicing in their exercise of impeachment, the vote seemed unlikely to settle Russia's latest political crisis. Last week, Yeltsin fired Yevgeny M. Primakov as prime minister, infuriating much of the Duma and setting up a possibly disastrous confrontation between parliament and president.

Though Yeltsin said he was dismissing Primakov because he had failed to begin reviving the economy, most observers assumed that the president was jealous of Primakov's growing popularity among voters. And deputies who supported Primakov interpreted the firing as a way to punish them for pursuing impeachment.

Yeltsin has nominated Sergei V. Stepashin, the interior minister, to the job. If the restive Duma rejects a nominee three times, Yeltsin has the constitutional right to dissolve the Duma and hold new elections, leaving the country without a parliament for three months.

The battle over a new prime minister, which will begin this week, troubles even those deputies who fought on Yeltsin's behalf against impeachment.

"I feel satisfaction but at the same time pain," said Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the pro-Yeltsin Our Home Is Russia faction. "The price for impeachment was Primakov's government. Now we have no impeachment and no government."

Earlier, in arguing against impeachment, he criticized politicians from across the spectrum for acting out of self-interest, for squabbling and fighting for power instead of joining to create a law-based country with a healthy economy.

`Indictment of the heroes'

"Our Home Is Russia declares an indictment of all the heroes of this era, including ourselves," Ryzhkov said. "The names of people on the right and on the left will forever be among the names of the architects of the ruins to which Russia has been reduced. Today, we still have a chance to admit our mistakes, to draw genuine lessons from what happened to our country.

"If we don't do it, the people will. If the people don't do it, history will; if history does not do it, God will."

The liberal Yabloko group, led by Grigory A. Yavlinsky, voted to impeach Yeltsin on the Chechen war charges. This was a warning, Yavlinsky said, to all politicians that they will be judged for their actions.

Just as the Communists began to nod their assent, Yavlinsky attacked them, dismissing the other charges as politically inspired. He said Yeltsin made serious mistakes in the course of reform, not out of a desire to destroy Russia but because he could not overcome his past.

"Such indifference and negligence is a longtime tradition of the Communist-Bolshevik leaders from whose midst he rose and with whom his entire biography is linked. The Communist regime headed by Stalin deliberately murdered tens of millions of citizens of various nationalities. The party which proclaims as its historical leaders and heroes Lenin and Stalin, the ideologists and organizers of massive crimes against humanity, assumes the responsibilities for these atrocities with cynical pride.

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